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Teen honored as term ends

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Bagley is not a stereotypical teen-ager. Rather than being apathetic and disrespectful, the recent Wilde Lake High graduate is known as a polite young woman who is highly involved in school politics. Her role in student government reached its peak last school year when she was elected the student member of Howard County's Board of Education.

Bagley was inspired to run for the position by her friend Dan Furman, a graduate of Wilde Lake High and the previous student member of the board. "He was voting on these policies that were affecting the daily lives of students and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh. How can I do that?' " Bagley said.

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Last month, the school board formally recognized Bagley's contributions with a proclamation and gifts at a public meeting. Her parents and younger sister attended, as did the next student board member, Jamie Martin of Wilde Lake High.

Applying for the board position is an intense process. Each February, prospective student board members submit essays to the Howard County's Association of Student Councils. After a panel interview, the three final candidates make a videotaped speech that is sent to all county middle and high schools. Eighth- through 11th-graders vote on the winner.

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The Board of Education has included students in its meetings for more than 20 years, according to Sandra H. French, chairman of the school board. It has evolved from student representatives, to associates and ultimately a student board member who has an opinion vote. The vote is recorded in board minutes, but it does not count.

Wilde Lake Assistant Principal Marcy Leonard, who in 1988 was the first student associate to the Board of Education, worked with Bagley as her student government adviser and social studies teacher.

"The board position is a really amazing opportunity for the students in Howard County to realize they have an impact in policy-making," Leonard said. "It's also, on the flip side, an opportunity for the adults to hear from the students who are most impacted by the decisions that they're making."

When the Maryland High School Assessments were being given, French said, "Jess was very concerned about the disruption in the schools." The new test took longer than expected, beyond a regular class period. When underclassmen changed classes, the noise in the halls was a distraction for seniors who were taking the test.

Several principals had asked that the school day begin later for those students not taking the exams, and Bagley presented the idea to the school board. "Jessica believed that that really would be the best thing, and she didn't back down. She was very firm, very persuasive and expressed both the teachers' and the students' point of view," French said. Although the board did not use the suggestion, "I praised her later for standing firm and being gracious," French said.

Fellow board member James P. O'Donnell also said he appreciated Bagley's gracious manner. He said she was able to "get to the point without adding to the emotion of the issue and always was able to do that in a very crisp, very concise way."

One thing Bagley focused on during her term was getting others involved in policy-making. She invited students to attend board meetings, visited schools and encouraged activism.

"I was really, really excited at the response that we got. We had a lot of kids speaking up," she said, some of whom started an online forum for students about school policy. "It was evidence that I'd done a good job, something tangible that I had made a difference - that people were speaking up about issues that affected them."

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This fall, Bagley will begin a six-year doctoral program in physical therapy at Pennsylvania's Lebanon Valley College. Although she is not studying politics, she plans to stay involved in her community.

"I want to work on public health initiatives and public policy about health-related issues," she said. "I like making a difference. I like knowing that what I'm doing is affecting other people and making other people's lives better."


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